Changing the Face of Literacy through Digital Inclusion: Digital Inclusion Fellowship Voices

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows are working this year on projects that include setting up basic computer skills courses, increasing home Internet usage, and volunteer recruitment and training. De’Andre S. Pickett shares his recent work as a Fellow in Atlanta, GA, working for Literacy Action.

His name is Matthew Massey. He is 22 years old and currently working on developing his literacy and math skills to take the GED test next year. Being a student at Literacy Action has afforded him the opportunity of a second chance at life. In addition to going to classes from 9-2 Monday through Thursday, Matthew also spends a large portion of his time in the Learning Lab, which is set up for students to continuously enhance their skills and practices learned in the classroom. This time is also spent utilizing the computers to access AZTEC, a computer-based learning program used to practice reading, writing, and basic math skills. With this program, Matthew has made significant improvement in all three areas.

Like Matthew, so many students look for alternative learning measures to enhance their skills and abilities. Digital and computer application has become more of a necessity than a choice. Our society, now more than ever, depends on the Internet, cell phones, and other electronic and digital outlets to function in their everyday lives. However, what happens when the accessibility of the Internet and devices or skills on how to operate them disallow the very ones who need it the most to find and apply for jobs; create resumes; apply for public assistance; study for the GED, SAT, and ACT tests; build their vocabulary; and the list goes on?

The Path to Accessing Opportunity

Increasing access to the Internet and digital literacy skills play a major role in opening new doors to opportunities for our students and many others in Metro-Atlanta. Households lack broadband access; and seniors, minorities, people with low incomes, disabilities, less education, non-traditional family households as well as the non- and under-employed lag behind other groups in home broadband use. While there is no single solution to closing the digital divide, increasing digital literacy skills among non-users is key to bringing them online and allowing them to access the opportunities at their fingertips.

Here at Literacy Action, I have been given the task to provide an opportunity for students to increase their understanding of basic computer skills that will build self confidence and personal growth. I have begun this process by entering classrooms and observing the teaching styles of each instructor, all the while looking for ways they have infused digital devices and software that could enhance the learning experience. We are addressing basic computer literacy skills for our English-speaking and non-English-speaking students through two to three mini-pilots ranging from 15-20 students a piece which then becomes a 15-week semester class. We have also created a Train the Trainer model (T3).

The Future

We work with the other Atlanta Fellows to build a collaborative program that will serve as a model for many nonprofits across the metro Atlanta area to use as they build their digital inclusion programming. With over 50% of jobs requiring digital literacy—a number expected to grow to over 77% within the next five years—our goal will be to close this divide and provide growth opportunities for those in low-income communities. By working towards incorporating spreading digital literacy across the curriculum, we will build a program that is changing the face of literacy through digital inclusion. We have become the 2016 beneficiary of the proceeds raised through the Cathedral Antiques Show by the Cathedral of St. Phillip Church. This will help fund the second year expansion of our Digital Literacy Program, which is setting the foundation for a comprehensive digital inclusion program for our community.

Matthew is just one student, but there are thousands of Matthews in the Metro-Atlanta area that could benefit from the work being done through this fellowship. With the help of my counterparts at the City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation and TechBridge, we will create an environment that closes the digital divide and fosters new and innovative teaching methods to build skills for our adult learners, ultimately help to eradicate low literacy…one face at a time! It is an incredible joy to see a student send an email for the first time, a parent checking his/her son’s grades through the parent portals, or that student passing a section of the GED…all because they garnered the support and training to become more digital literate. We learn that failure can never be an option when success is the goal. That’s how you change the face of literacy.

Photo credit:

DeAndre Pickett
Dr. De’Andre S Pickett was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College where he majored in Sociology and English. Most of his life has been spent serving others through community engagement, education, and social advocacy. He currently serves as Chair of the City of East Point Parks and Recreation Advisory commission where he has implemented PARC:360, a new initiative that engages families, elected officials, and community stakeholders to invest in the city’s Parks and Recreation Center, creates new programs that will enhance student learning and assist families with resources that will help find jobs, provides G.E.D courses and trade school opportunities, and promotes athletics and fitness for youth throughout the city.